As she queued for her first COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Laval, Que., Six-year-old Lea Strazza was a little worried.
“I feel nervous,” she said, standing with her mother, Sandy Strazza. “I’m scared because it hurts a bit.”
With children between the ages of five and 11 now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines across Canada, these nerves are common to many children who get vaccinated.
The Laval vaccination center has revamped its site to make it more suitable for children and to help put younger patients at ease.
In addition to a therapy dog, colorful balloons, and a huge inflatable slide, kids also have the option of putting on a virtual reality headset to play a game while being shot.
“They totally forget the vaccine,” said Isabelle Parent, director of vaccination at the RÃ©gie de la santÃ© de Laval. “You can vaccinate them, and they say at the end, ‘I’ve never felt it.'”
Distraction to gain the advantage
The virtual reality headset, developed by Montreal-based startup Paperplane Therapeutics, is intended for patients with severe burns or fractures who undergo more painful procedures.
âThe blow is usually not a big pain, but the fear is the big problem,â said Jean-Simon Fortin, emergency doctor and co-founder and president of Paperplane.
Distraction can be a powerful tool in breaking down that fear, he says, especially with an immersive experience like virtual reality.
âIt’s a medical treatment where the distraction really takes advantage,â said Fortin.
In the emergency room, Fortin saw with his own eyes how difficult it can be to keep children calm during procedures. He sees the potential to use his device and other similar products in a wide variety of medical settings, including burn units, for MRI scans, and for pain and anxiety reduction in patients. the adults.
Research shows that distraction can play an important role in helping reduce pain and distress during medical procedures, said Christine Chambers, professor of pediatrics, psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University in Halifax and scientific director of Solutions for Kids in Pain.
âVirtual reality is just one way to reduce pain in children,â she said.
“There have been a number of studies and systematic reviews that have shown it to be effective, including for vaccination.”
Fortin’s company is authorized by Health Canada to manufacture the helmet, which is a Class 1 medical device. It has been used in two studies at Sainte-Justine Hospital in Montreal to test its impact and is available at three sites. vaccination program in and around the Montreal region.
WATCH | Take a look at the world of virtual reality that distracts children from fear of vaccines:
“It made me brave”
When Lea Strazza sat in the booth to get the shot, health care worked to administer it, checked her Medicare card, then handed her the headset and a remote control.
On the immersive screen, a colorful therapeutic video game unfolded, and Lea used the remote to push aside crystals and balloons floating around a castle and into a blue sky with puffy white clouds.
When the health worker stuck the needle in her arm, Lea barely wavered.
The blow tickled her a bit, she said, and the game was fun.
âIt made me brave,â she said.
Sandy Strazza says she was proud of her daughter and in awe of the setup of the children’s immunization center, including the video game, which she says made the whole process easier.
“She’s going to be impatiently awaiting her second dose, so we’re happy,” she said.